A professional dancer for more than 30 years, Mr Tay Poh Soon started learning folk dance when he was a teenager and was eventually recruited to dance in Chingay, performing just bit parts at first.
“I was roped in during the Year of the Rabbit in the Chinese horoscope. My first role was to dress up as a rabbit. I did not like the idea initially, but when I saw the many bunnies hopping around when I went for my first rehearsal, I knew it was going to be fun.”
As the years progressed, Mr Tay eventually became a full-time dancer and joined the People’s Association’s (PA) Dance Troupe. The dance segment of Chingay naturally became one of his duties.
After more than 10 years as a dancer, Mr Tay became a choreographer and director. He assisted with the planning of the Chingay dance programmes, bringing with him his long experience as a dancer in the Parades. From the start, Mr Tay avoided using soft props in any of the dances he designed, being only too aware that these props could become useless if it were to rain.
In planning the Parade, Mr Tay also works closely with the Malay and Indian dance choreographers to settle on the music and dance formations to illustrate each year’s theme. They then choose their roles and rehearse the steps with their dancers before coming together once again to rehearse in tandem.
There are usually 200 to 300 Chinese dancers in each Chingay Parade, most of whom are either part-time dancers with PA or students from secondary schools, junior colleges or other higher institutions of learning.
“As they are volunteer dancers, it is harder to co-ordinate their timing, but there is a deep respect for one and that is to deliver an excellent performance at Chingay. Many of our dancers sacrifice their time and finances to turn that aspiration into reality.”
Over his many years working on the Parade, he singled out the collaboration with multi-disciplinary artist Mr Tan Swie Hian for the performance of his poem, “The Celestial Web” as his most meaningful.
“This poem was recited in Mandarin. While dancers from the three racial groups formed the dance team, it was still possible to portray the meaning of the poem accurately.”
In recent years, Mr Tay has started grooming successors to take over his choreography role while he focuses on assisting in the Parade’s opening and finale scenes. He believes that the content and format of Chingay over the years has become more interesting and meaningful, gaining greater recognition from both the local and international communities. In tandem with this, he has felt his life getting richer too.
“I have made many friends in PA, including friends from other races. Our relationships are deeply rooted in Chingay and I can’t bear to leave it.”
Well-known dance instructor and choreographer Mr Low Ee Chiang is a very versatile. Besides teaching in many schools, he also conducts dance classes at PA. However, his greatest challenge every year is to choreograph part of the opening segment and finale of the Chingay Parade, a task he takes seriously.
Besides dance, Mr Low also teaches wushu and gymnastics. He draws on these skills, combining them into his choreography. He also tries to inject local elements into his work, adding ethnic flourishes to make his dances uniquely Singaporean. He has never been one to shy away from experimenting with other art forms such as Japanese Butoh – a popular Japanese dance form where male performers paint their bare torsos white – into his Chingay pieces for added zest.
The most memorable Chingay for Mr Low, was one particular Parade at Orchard Road. Despite bad weather, the performers were so enthusiastic that they were all willing to brave the rain and continue with the show to ensure Chingay’s successful transition from the heartlands to the global stage.
Adapted from: Tales of Chingay – Celebrating 40 Years of Chingay Written by: Lee Seng Chan Translated by: Ong Hui Fang & Lin Xiaoling